Mark Jacobs should have listened to his own blog.

File this one under “Dark Humor”, but Mark Jacob’s (former Warhammer Online lead designer) now-dead blog was called “Online Games Are a Niche Market”, a title that at the time was used as a joke because Mark believed MMOs had ‘made it’ and were mainstream because of WoW. What Mark has now learned, and at some point people like Tobold will realize, is that the MMO genre IS a niche genre, and taking one pop sensation and trying to pretend that’s the actual market size is well… a good way to merge servers after a few months and a quick way to get fired.

Which is not to say that as a niche the genre can’t be hugely profitable, just ask CCP or Turbine. What’s not profitable is looking at one outlier and thinking your great idea is enough to draw that population in, a population that NO MATTER WHAT is not interested. They do a good job of pretending to be interested, sure, but the sooner you realize they are not, the better (for your game and your job security).

Sadly games like WAR, Aion, and soon enough SW:TOR don’t seem to understand this, and the aftermath can/will be brutal. The one big question I have is; does Blizzard understand this? Is their next MMO aiming to replicate the EVE model of slow but steady growth over 5+ years through superior MMO design, or will they go even further than WoW has and remove even more of what makes an MMO an MMO to appeal to the far larger but fickle non-MMO gamer segment? Are they prepping Blizzard’s take on sandbox MMO design, or a highly polished Mafia Wars?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Aion, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Mass Media, MMO design, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Mark Jacobs should have listened to his own blog.

  1. rulez says:

    All that talk about niche, tourists and stuff. Where are the real numbers? What is the number of total PC gamers and what percentage of that subscribe to MMOs?
    All that opinion talk really gets boring sorry :P.

    • SynCaine says:

      The numbers are easy. Look at all AAA MMO titles released since 2006, and look what happened to their player bases in the first year. There ya go.

  2. Malakili says:

    All that opinion talk? Its his blog what do you expect?

    Anyway, I expect Blizzard’s next MMO to be closer to Free Realms than anything else. I could be wrong of course.

    • Malakili says:

      Also, I expect that WoW will be the more popular of the 2.

      • Adam says:

        I wonder how Freerealms is actually doing…

        I would never have played it for more than a few hours anyway but having every mob fight “instanced” was so ridiculous that I lost interest after maybe half an hour.

        I think an arrogant Blizzard will try to make freerealms, a smart Blizzard will try to make a large scale sandbox that is closer to Second Life (but is still an actual game).

        I don’t see Blizzard scaling back and making a harder and quality MMO I’m sorry to say.

    • rulez says:

      No kidding. I expect less bubbles and more meat. Some relation to facts so it actually gives some inspiration for thoughts or even discussions. Kind of crazy to expect that is it? :o

  3. To keep Blizzard’s efforts in perspective, they are likely focused on having a larger market with 2 MMOs than they have (prior to the launch of MMO #2) with WoW alone, not “beating WoW”.

    That makes sense if they figure that investment in MMO #2 produces more incremental profit than investing that same money in WoW.

    So getting those $50 box sales from “tourists”, and then having most leave (and presumably go back to WoW) is not a bad thing for them.

  4. sid67 says:

    Setting aside the continued misuse of the word “niche” for a moment — Pop sensation or not, WoW has increased the market share for MMOs to a considerably degree.

    What other game companies have failed to do is steal that market share. And what they are learning is that it is HARD to accomplish that feat.

    There are countless reasons why they have failed at this but in my opinion it boils down to two things:

    1) They haven’t differentiated themselves enough from WoW.

    You aren’t going to beat Blizzard by repackaging their own game. There needs to be some evolutionary leap that makes it distinctly NOT WoW.

    2) Execution and attention to detail hasn’t been up to the perceived standard that WoW offers.

    Before making all these WoW launch comparisons, keep in mind that the important thing here is that the PERCEPTION is that WoW set the standard.

    A standard that continues when they launch new expansions. Unfair or not, that perception is what other game companies are competing against.

    So in this sense, Tobold’s outlook is a sensible one. If an innovative MMO came along that was executed well and had a great attention to detail — it could steal market share from WoW.

    Is that probable or easy? Hardly.

    • SynCaine says:

      Except you forget that WoW is just an EQ1 clone, and not something that differentiated itself from the current king. They got a lot of help when the current king killed himself with EQ2 and handed over the crown though.

      SW:TOR would do REALLY well if Blizzard shut down WoW for three months when SW launches, but something tells me the perfect storm won’t be around then.

      • sid67 says:

        I’m not forgetting anything. WoW differentiated itself enough to attract an audience and capitalized on the opportunity that EQ provided them. Even if you want to only describe that innovation as turning MMOs into single player games.

        People need to stop pointing back to history and face the situation as it exists today.

        It’s not about what WoW did to get the dominate market position — it’s about what they next guy needs to do in the current market.

        The market today is much more mature than when WoW emerged and less forgiving.

        For example, in 2004, people were very forgiving about an imperfect launch and certain problems were expected.

        Today — people are less forgiving about those problems. It doesn’t really matter if WoW launched with those issues, the perception is that it set some standard and those things are not forgivable in a new game.

        And so a game with less issues than WoW at launch can be released and get labeled as buggy and problematic. Fair? No. A reality that the competition needs to face? Yes.

  5. Stabs says:

    To be honest we really don’t know one way or the other.

    If SWTOR captures 5 million players is that an outlier too or are they just WoW tourists who forgot to go back?

    We don’t know what’s going to happen.

    From looking at past games most MMOs have had incredibly high barriers to casual access. They crash all the time when they launch, many have high system specs, they cost more than other similar games and so on.

    As a set of products they’ve generally been mediocre. If you could play mmo games offline solo would any of them beat the single player games for quality?

    As the genre grows up we will learn more about what it’s potential is.

  6. My crystal ball doesn’t see SW:TOR faltering in the same way as Warhammer Online did. I suspect given the Bioware brand name it’ll do well, as long as EA keeps their dirty hands away from it. You can see the perpetual gushing about Dragon Age: Origins to see what type of fanbase the game might expect to enjoy.

    The trick is that it probably won’t do “11 million subscribers!” good given the difficulties of a western company getting a game into the numbers-inflating Chinese market these days. I think Stabs’ 5 million figure is probably a good measure of where it will be when the dust settles. Not that I would put anything other than a token bet on that.

    • SynCaine says:

      SW IP vs Warhammer IP I say is a wash when talking about the MMO genre. One is Sci-Fi (negative), the other is basically what Warhammer is based on without the IP rights. Plus IP is not the golden goose either (LoTR?).

      Mythic vs Bioware is also a wash. Bioware has a longer track record of quality games, but this will be their first MMO. Mythic had DAoC, which was a huge success and many had very positive memories of it.

      WAR had WotLK, SW is likely to have Cataclysm.

      SW will sell over a million boxes on hype alone. Hell maybe it will even sell 2m boxes. It won’t be close to 1m subs after 3-6 months. And gameplay and quality has nothing to do with that, sadly.

      • sid67 says:

        It’s not even close to being a wash. Star Wars is one of the biggest IP in any industry. By itself, it spans how many different product lines? Movies, video games, books, comics, toys, collectible cards, animated TV, lunchboxes — you name it, it’s probably had a SW logo printed on it at some point.

        The original movie itself is credited for creating the ‘hollywood blockbuster’ and changing how movies are made forever.

        Point is — it’s got a HUGE fanbase that is largely comprised of exactly the type of people that MMOs attract. The fact it is Sci-Fi is utterly meaningless.

        • Adam says:

          I don’t disagree that Star Wars is strongish IP.

          But that has to be balanced against the complete trashing its received starting with the Phantom Menace.

          Most of the sci-fi nerds that I know personally have nothing but bad things to say about anything and everything Star Wars.

          This mutes the Star Wars IP for an MMO more than a little.

        • Bhagpuss says:

          DAOC was a huge success? I must have missed that part. What did it have at it’s peak, 250k subs? It certainly never passed, or even closed on EQ, which itself never got the “500,000” subs now often quoted. 450k was the highest ever officially claimed by SOE.

          Several current MMOs that are considered also-rans almost certainly have more subscribers than DAOC ever managed.

          I think most commentators are missing an essential point in these MMO futurology discussions. Namely, delivery platform. As long as MMOs are tied to the PC platform, they are indeed going to be niche. The entire platform is a niche in gaming terms, let alone in entertainment terms.

          The next, unequivocal “big thing” in MMOs won’t come until the Western entertainment market is predicated on the combination of near-universal broadband and the “one-box” home entertainment system that feeds off it. That’s the point at which online entertainment of all kinds, including MMOs, moves out of its niche into the mainstream. It’s been long-predicted, but it’s nearly here.

        • SynCaine says:

          Indeed you did miss something Bhag, at one point (forget when exactly) DAoC had more subs than EQ1 and was the biggest MMO out. I think it peaked at 300-400k subs, again I don’t remember the exact number, but when WAR was about to release Mythic mentioned the success of DAoC and exactly it’s place amount the games of it’s time.

        • Carson63000 says:

          Star Wars is a big name in IP, no doubt about it.

          But bear in mind that it’s an IP which has already had one MMORPG based on it, and that one bears the unmistakable reek of failure and disaster. Maybe it’s unfair, given that by all accounts (I didn’t play it myself) it had a lot to recommend it until excessive changes killed it, but that’s the smell that SW:G has.

  7. Riknas says:

    Let it be known, when something is considered Mainstream, it does not go so far across the board as to make everything in the genre mainstream. Halo is a mainstream shooter, along with Call of Duty, but that hardly means that shooters are a mainstream market. More than an RTS? I suppose. “Games” might be mainstream, but there are far too many sub-categories to be entitled to being “mainstream” on their. Regardless, I digress.

    The way something becomes mainstream is something that you haven’t seen before. WoW had everything set up perfectly with an established IP, good track record, enough changes, enough polish, and the right ad campaign to make such a hit, not to mention having been released in China.

    Like a solar eclipse, it is not easy to create something to be mainstream. We can list mainstream titles on our hands, we forget the sheer number of things that have ACTUALLY been released, and you don’t see other games becoming mainstream by borrowing off that perfection.

    In all honesty, contrary to what one might think, mainstream is a phenomenon from something ambitious and different. It’s going to take countless releases before another game becomes mainstream, and you should always know the odds are against you. But if I had to play the numbers game, I would say Bioware is the next company to be able to make another, at least close to. Like Blizzard, it has the right track record, it looks amazingly detailed and polished, and its seemingly different enough, with an even larger IP…

    If they don’t do it, it’s hard to say when the next thing will come around. Statistically though, it has to happen eventually.

  8. I’m going to go ahead and take MJB’s 20+ years in the online market as proof he may know something. MJB speaks the truth. The truth bit him in the ass. I still think he’s about the only honest developer we’ve seen. It goes to show a career of successes will never be greater than one AAA failure.

    • Coppertopper says:

      …or as they say in my biz ‘1 fuckup erases 1000 attaboys’. But I don’t believe MJ’s mistakes were as collosal as Brad Mquaid. MJ spoke the truth, like you said, and at least was present as the ship was foundering. I hope he has some garage project going somewhere – he seems to excel with smaller teams.

  9. grimjakk says:

    One point about the mainstreaming of the MMO market: I have a handful of relatives (latest data point Nov. 26 – heh) that have played WoW for years now. Of them, not one of them is an “MMO player”… they’re all “WoW players” whom I cannot get to even try another MMO.

    Anecdotal, yes. But only one of the 5 even considers herself a “gamer”.

  10. Julian says:

    Did we forget that there’s been a Star Wars MMO already and how that turned up to be?

    I’m not saying it’s the same case (I hope not). I’m saying that even the strongest IP is no guarantee of anything against other, stronger forces.

    Saying “It will do well because of the Star Wars IP” is just false. We have history to back this up. In fact, well-known established IP from other mediums tends to fail more often than original IP, if we go by history.

    • Stabs says:

      Galaxies initially did really well because of the Star Wars IP.

      “As far as we know, it’s the fastest MMO [massively multiplayer online game] ever. We hit 125,000 people in a week. We’re considerably higher than that now, but we’re not ready to talk about numbers again yet. ”

      Failures after the game was established were not the fault of the IP.

      Star Wars is one of the best if not outright the best gamer culture IPs and will draw a metric tonne of gamers to Bioware’s game just as it drew them to SWG.

      • Julian says:

        Fine, but that’s not what I’m saying. I know it didn’t fail because of the IP. I’m saying this pristine IP didn’t do one bit to prevent failure, which is something else entirely.

        Star Wars does not equal success, and this is not just in MMOs. There’s a ton of games using the Star Wars IP that flopped, in all platforms and genres.

  11. Dblade says:

    EVE doesn’t have superior design, seriously. I’m starting to think an MMO’s success is more determined by random factors and timing than any real quality in the game.

    To Julian-it seems to be doing very well since it’s still running with a good sub base. It could have been done better, although I doubt that honestly. People romanticize the hell out of games they’ve played, and forget their flaws. I think I should start to compose a list of sacred cows or something and compare them to reality.

    • Julian says:

      Well, come on now. Don’t start trying to sell me the “it’s doing very well” bit. It had problems (like any other game), NGE finished the job and it’s been comatose ever since. Which is a pity because it had a lot of potential, but the thing isn’t precisely an example of anything. It’s been all but forgotten by most people and maintained by its niche (btw, nothing wrong with that either).

      I’m sure it’s been minimally profitable all this time, otherwise it would’ve been summarily executed. But from that to saying “it’s doing very well”… I feel a bit like John Cleese at the pet shop.

      • Dblade says:

        You do know that it peaked at all of 275k subs even with the NGE right? It’s not like it even fell that far, and comparing it to similar games released at the same time there’s no guarantee that even if the NGE continued it would have kept its subs. People idolized it primarily because it was taken away.

        I’m sure you could have said the same thing for the matrix online, but it’s shuttered. For SWG not to be means it has to be doing good enough to retain a good sized playerbase.

        • Julian says:

          Don’t really know where it peaked. SOE said at some point it sold 1M boxes. Mmogchart even though it’s outdated it covers that period and puts it peaking at 300k. As of 2008 it puts it at ~100k which is not unreasonable for a game that old and with so many problems.

          What I’m saying is that if these are the numbers that the best bestest IP ever can (1) put out and (2) sustain, then we’re all deep fried.

          And once again for clarity: I’m not even suggesting the SW IP was responsible for Galaxies’ debacle. What I’m saying is this IP couldn’t save it.

  12. brent says:

    /thumbs up, syncaine
    been pondering similar lines of thought…

  13. Anonymous says:

    Assumptions, Guesstimates, generalisations…

    Not worked on the development on SW:TOR / But you already know EXACTLY how its going to turn out.

    Not played much Aion / But you took pleasure from watching other people cancel subscriptions because it wasn’t for them so you obviously have a valid opinion.

    Not played a bean of WOTLK / But based on prior experience already judged it, and anyone who still enjoys that game.

    Yeah and Zitron has issues. Pathetic

  14. Dirk says:

    “Anonymous” said:
    Assumptions, Guesstimates, generalisations…

    Not worked on the development on SW:TOR / But you already know EXACTLY how its going to turn out.

    Not played much Aion / But you took pleasure from watching other people cancel subscriptions because it wasn’t for them so you obviously have a valid opinion.

    Not played a bean of WOTLK / But based on prior experience already judged it, and anyone who still enjoys that game.

    Yeah and Zitron has issues. Pathetic

    Anonymous, anonymous, anonymous…

    What is pathetic is that you cant even be bother to put in a fake name to stick with the pathetic insults you fling.

    Good luck with that.

    • SynCaine says:

      Now now, don’t feed the trolls. You can point and laugh like the rest of us, but please don’t feed them.

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